(The New American Apocalypse
Table of Contents: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part Seven; Part Eight; Part Nine; Part Ten; Part Eleven; Part Twelve; Part Thirteen; Part Fourteen; Part Fifteen; Part Sixteen; Part Seventeen; Part Eighteen; Part Nineteen; Part Twenty; Part Twenty-One; Part Twenty-Two;
The universe is going to end. Ultimately, everything does. Species go extinct, eras come to a close. The apocalypse happens…not with a bang, and maybe not even with the over-quoted whimper. The apocalypse is a mundane thing. It happens every day. An old man halfway across the world closes his eyes for the last time and takes everything he might’ve done next week with him. A young woman overdoses on pain medication. A species of insect is just discovered the day before it vanishes. A billion lightyears away, an old star finally gutters out. The apocalypse isn’t flashy. It doesn’t brag. It doesn’t drive a nice car or pour overpriced champagne into its hot-tub. It just waits and, eventually, it wins.
But you never think you’ll be there for it. You’re vaguely aware that one day you, personally, won’t exist anymore. You’re vaguely aware that a distant future happens without you in it. But the whole shebang? The end of mankind? No way, right?
This apocalypse was slow, too. The New American Apocalypse was decades in the making. We just didn’t notice it because, most of the time, the apocalypse isn’t flashy or bright or particularly fast. Most of the time, the apocalypse is boring and dull and takes an incredibly long time.
Where did this one start? Well, it was long before I wrote my shitty poems, I’ll tell you that. Before the Cult of M’Ra or the Church of the New American Jesus. But when? I stay up at night, too tired to move and too scared of my own thoughts to sleep, and wonder…when? When? WHEN?
But I can’t find a date. Can’t even figure out the era. If someone asks me “where did this all get started?” I’d have to shrug my shoulders and mumble something about inevitable entropy or maybe the cruelty of human nature or the absolute resourcefulness of the Great Darknesses. I think that scares me more than everything else. If I could point to an event, or a decade, or a moment, or something, if I could point to something in our shared history and say “here, it started here,” then maybe it wouldn’t feel so inevitable. But it’s like people keep telling me: I just put the straw on the camel’s back. Everything else was already there. Added slowly, over decades, maybe even over centuries, by so many people with so many different ideas that it’s impossible to narrow it down.
Nobody in history woke up and said “well, time to start the apocalypse, I guess.” Nobody wakes up and decides to be the bad guy. They just kind of…do it. It’s only evidenced in retrospect, in the vast archives of history. Vanderbilt was a cruel, self-righteous criminal. Pullman was a heartless money-grubbing monster. They didn’t wake up and decide to be assholes. That’s just the best that they could do with the beliefs that they had. With their priorities. With their perspectives.
So it goes, I guess.
Same thing with the Cult of M’Ra. I bet every single one of them, from the Grand Penis to the lowly Scrotophyte, believes that they’re doing something that has to be done. Talk about delusions of fucking grandeur. But there’s something there, right? They didn’t wake up in the morning and pray to their Mighty Veined Deity to be assholes. They do it because they believe in something, they legitimately believe in something. They do it because they think there’s something wrong with the direction things were going in before the Great Darknesses rose up. They have faith in their own goodness. Faith in their Cock God and the moral structure of its hairy testicles.
Yeah, well. I think this world has seen enough of what faith can do.
“What’s got you up so late?” Mr. Baldwin asks. His wounds are recovering admirably, but we’ve all had to continue covering for him. I’m waiting for those interned psychos to come knocking. Or worse. The Scanners. Surely they’re looking for him, by now.
“Thinking about inevitability. About the way people act that makes these things happen. About maybe how this is just the path human nature takes us down, that there’s never been another way to go.”
“You really think that?” he’s on the bunk below mine, bandaged and salved, and his voice has a quality that makes me think that the Earth, itself, is speaking.
“I dunno. Maybe. It just makes sense, sometimes.”
“You think the Cult of M’Ra makes sense?” he asks, as if reading my mind. “You think a bunch of crackers wearing Halloween masks and walking around with longsword-sized dildos makes sense?”
“In the context of the human species? Maybe. Maybe this is just what we are, you know? What we’ve always been.”
“Jesus, no wonder they got you so easy. Programmed you to forget their agenda, made your eyes blind to the structures of their systems, your ears deaf to the evils of their scriptures…then they waited for your nihilistic foolishness to do the rest. Instant patsy.”
“But am I wrong, though? The Great Darknesses made this all possible, but the people did it. The Cult of M’Ra, the Church of the New American Jesus, hell, even the zed middle management types and the cannibal class chasing everyone out of their apartments in Queens–they’re all just humans, living or recently deceased. They were just waiting for some squid-faced monster to give them the go-ahead. That’s all. They just needed permission.”
There’s a long pause. I can hear him think. He can hear me, too, I bet. The two of us just stewing in the darkness.
He breaks the silence. His voice has the strength of coiled roots drilled into the soil. “Long is the way and hard that out of darkness leads up to light.”
I furrow my brow, though he can’t see it. “Is that Milton? Are you quoting Milton at me?”
“Don’t be weak,” he says. “Don’t be a coward. Don’t look for an excuse to give up. You want the truth? The truth is that the world can be shit. People suffer. People are always going to suffer. Some more than others, and for reasons that won’t make any sense. So you have to make a choice: you either give up, turn a blind eye, tell yourself there’s nothing you can do about it…or you can do something about it. The world doesn’t need another asshole like you in the first category. That’s what it is. The path is long and it is hard as all hell, but it’s the only path leading up. The only path running against the one you’re so afraid is your only option.”
I nod, though he can’t see it. “Guess so. Just…why bother? Because…extinction, you know? If not the Great Darknesses, maybe just bombs. Or a plague. Or the sun eating the Earth. Or–”
“Excuses. Philosophical bullshit. Academic nonsense to make you feel better about not wanting to do shit. You ever hear the story about that photographer? Uh…what’s his name?…Carter? The guy who took the photo of that starving kid and the vulture?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I know that one.”
“Yeah, well. Look at that shit and tell me about how the sun’s going to eat the Earth and nothing matters, huh? Existential depression. You’re lucky to be in a place where existential depression is the shit that you’re worried about. Extinction. Meaning. Maslow’s damned pyramid. Do me a favor, alright?”
“Feed the kid, when it happens to you. Just feed the fucking kid.”
A long pause. I say nothing. I can’t think of anything to say.
He speaks, next: “Tomorrow, by the way. The attack happens tomorrow. We’re going to open a portal, again, and this time you’re going through.”
“Don’t fuck it up.”
I would say ‘ye of little faith,’ but I’m not a man of much faith, either.